Jul 13, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The nationwide K-12 tipping point

School bus

Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images

The doors of public schools are swiftly slamming shut for many Americans ahead of this next school year.

Driving the news: Los Angeles and San Diego are starting out online-only this fall, forcing 825,000 students to learn with a laptop.

  • California is also re-entering lockdown: Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered restaurants, wineries, movie theaters and other family entertainment to stop serving customers indoors, and he ordered bars to close in their entirety.

Why it matters: This could start a domino effect among officials who haven't made a final decision, especially with the coronavirus surging across much of the U.S.

  • It also sets up a conflict with the Trump administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who are pushing schools to have students in classrooms.

The big picture: Los Angeles is the first big district to make this move, with plenty more at a crucial point in the decision-making process.

  1. New York City will be allowed to open schools if positive test rates remain below 5%.
  2. Chicago let high school athletes return to practice last week, but hasn't decided whether to have classes in person.
  3. Miami-Dade is asking parents to vote on their preference of online, hybrid or in-person, but this only applies if the state goes to the next phase of re-opening.
  4. Maryland's Montgomery County Public Schools released its draft plan this weekend to start September with online-only classes. In-person classes would then be phased in, and blocked off by different periods and grades, Axios' Orion Rummler reports.
  5. Las Vegas will have a hybrid system with the potential for alterations.
  6. Atlanta's school board is voting today on whether to start the first nine weeks online.
  7. In Seattle, students are "likely to go to school in person only once or twice a week" in the plan under consideration as of July 8, per the N.Y. Times.

Between the lines: Teachers unions are flexing some muscle here, the LA Times notes.

  • Los Angeles teachers union leadership pushed for online-only, and "83% of teachers agreed in a one-day snap poll."

By the numbers: Cost will be a big factor in these decisions.

  • San Diego faced a $90 million price tag to add the necessary support staff and disinfecting procedures to keep schools open. (N.Y. Times)
  • The bill could average out to nearly $1.8 million per school district, the School Superintendents Association estimates. (ABC News)

The bottom line: American schools are profoundly unequal, and a child's ZIP code determines a large part of their destiny.

  • Now one of the few equalizing elements — kids learning in the same physical classrooms as their peers — is out of the picture for the foreseeable future.

Go deeper: Teachers’ union president on reopening schools (podcast)

Go deeper